Anyone who grew up in the middle of a war with fighting in the streets and air raids have some sort of permanent scaring from it. For Javier, the son of a “Happy” circus clown, the mark inflicted upon him is far greater than anyone could imagine.
The Last Circus directed by Alex de la Iglesia, starts with children watching a makeshift circus before it is crashed by militia looking to recruit anyone able bodied to fight with them. This is where is Javier’s father, the Happy Clown, takes a machete and runs into battle. In the end, he is the sole survivor who has wiped out an entire platoon. However, he is taken prisoner as the higher ranks pull into town. Here we enter the tale of how this will affect his son.
Fast forward to 1973. Taking his father’s advice – that he has had too much sadness in his life as a young child to ever be able to pull off the Happy Clown routine – Javier winds up working as the Sad Clown. The Sad Clown takes the hit of all of Happy Clown’s jokes. This means that Happy Clown holds the power over Sad Clown, no matter the routine. The role is somewhat humiliating, as the people who come to the circus, especially the children, come for Happy Clown. He is the one that makes them laugh.
The circus, run by Happy Clown Sergio, is full of colorful characters including the gorgeous aerial silks acrobat, Natalia. While others smile, nod and agree with Sergio for the sake of him keeping his cool, newcomer Javier does not hesitate to question a rude joke he tells at dinner. Sergio’s rage immediately shows, prompting Natalia to defend Javier only to be backhanded by her husband.
This launches the ultimate showdown of Sad Clown vs. Happy Clown as Javier tries to save Natalia from abusive Sergio. Her affection towards Javier causes much disarray, as she still is somewhat faithful to her husband. With two men, with their own personal demons, fighting over her, chaos ensues with a spectacle of an ending.
The air of the movie is perfectly summed up in the trailer. Sergio, complete in his Happy Clown stature asks of Javier, “Why are you a clown?” to which Javier replies, “What about you?” Cooley, Sergio replies, “Because if I weren’t a clown, I’d be a murderer.”
Antonio de la Torre is excellent as Sergio. His casual demeanor as he grills Javier whilst eating is eerie enough. His overall appearance, in and out of clown makeup, just oozes evil slimeball. In contrast, Carlos Areces pulls off Javier to the capacity that I felt sorry for him from the start. It wasn’t until he began to torture himself physically – which surely was to represent the turmoil he felt within – that I began to ease away from my heartache. Carolina Bang deserves much applause for her role. Watching, I truly felt conflict of liking and hating her character. Her ease on the aerial silks is amazing, and having studied the art form myself, I know how grueling the process had to have been to get to the level she displays.
Though I felt certain aspects including the initial build up at the circus itself could have been extended, it was still an interesting piece. In the end, The Last Circus is dramatic, visually stunning and intriguing. While it isn’t a true horror film, per se, it does explore the genre through the means of the human psyche. But then again, what is the most terrifying monster of all but man?